“Come, Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in us the fire of your love.” In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,
Perhaps most frequent comments that I hear about our church, St. Mark’s, right now is that we’re in a season of having a lot of children in our congregation. Did you know that we have around 70 kids in our congregation ages 12 and under? That’s somewhere between ¼ and 1/3 of our congregation. That’s great! But what do you like most about children? One thing that just fascinates me about children is how they will just about say whatever is on their mind. They have very little inhibitions. This feature of children was really brought out by a celebrity named Art Linkletter who had a radio and then tv show that ran from 1945 to 1969 where he interviewed children saying just the funniest things. Perhaps some of you remember his show. Children have very little inhibitions and are often not afraid of telling you what they think no matter how crazy it sounds. And most children- not all – but most children have a way of displaying this sort of care-free, happy, fun attitude. Yes, they cry, but give it a little while and they’re off playing again happy as ever.
So what happens? When do we lose this child-like boldness, this child-like happiness, this child-like care-free attitude? Maybe it’s the disappointments of life that hit us one after another, maybe it’s getting older and life gets more and more complicated, maybe it’s feeling the cruelty and nastiness of others, maybe it’s seeing all the garbage of this sinful world and it makes us somewhat cynical and pessimistic and distrustful and negative. But isn’t there a part of us that admires a child’s resilient boldness and resilient happiness? How do we get that? What we see in our text this morning are people who were transformed from cowardice to boldness, from fear to joy and confidence. How did that happen?
For centuries the Christian church has found wisdom in setting aside a Sunday to focus on the work of the Holy Spirit. We often don’t spend much time focusing on the work of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit’s work is often in the background, behind the scenes, not up front and center, but, the truth is, the effect of his work is all over the place if we open our eyes. What we’re going to look at this morning is the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. What we’re going to focus on is the work of the Holy Spirit and see that it’s first outside in, then it’s inside out.
First, it’s outside in. You don’t find the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit finds you. You don’t invite the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit invites himself. Having the Holy Spirit isn’t a doing it’s a receiving. The Holy Spirit first works from the outside in. And we see in this in our text. Jesus promised his disciples that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. The disciples were simply recipients. There’s a sound of a violent wind outside of themselves. We’re even told that it’s a violent wind that came from heaven. Wind is often used in the Bible as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Then we’re told that they “saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” Notice that the fire didn’t come from inside, it came from the outside. It was outside in. And we’re also told that all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. They didn’t fill themselves with the Holy Spirit, they were passive, the Holy Spirit filled them.
The Holy Spirit first works outside in. And this is wonderful good news. Thankfully having the Holy Spirit isn’t up to our doing. We’re passive. You see, God tells us that our natural condition born into this world is that we’re spiritually dead- dead in our sins, we inherited our lost sinful condition from our parents. God’s Word also tells us that we’re enemies of God, hostile to him. God’s Word also tells us that we’re lost and blind on our own. If having the Holy Spirit was our work, we’d be lost. But thankfully, God the Holy Spirit works from the outside in. He comes to us. He finds us. He gives us spiritual life. He opens our eyes. He gives us sight. He works faith in our hearts. Through faith He makes us God’s own children. He works outside of us through Word and Sacrament and comes in.
But the work of the Holy Spirit doesn’t stop there. He continues to work from the outside in as we hear God’s Word again and again, as we recall our baptisms, as we receive Jesus’ body and blood in the Supper. And what does that do on the inside? As we here God’s Word we’re reminded of the awesome gospel truths. Imagine a father and son walking hand in hand. One thing I love about being a dad is walking hand in hand with one of my children. They know me, they know that I love them, care about them, etc. But there will be times when I’ll stop and pick them up in my arms and hug them. They’ve been my children all long, ever since they were born, but they enjoy and experience that status as I pick them up in my arms. You see, that’s what the Holy Spirit does. He plants the truths of God deep in our hearts. Through faith in Jesus you are a child of God, he loves you as far as the heavens are above the earth, he forgives you as far as the east is from the west, he has gone to infinite lengths, infinite depths, infinite cost to himself to make you His own, He delights in you, He will never let you go, nothing in heaven or earth, in time or eternity will cause Him to lose you. He will take all that’s bad in your life and work it for the good and one day he will glorify you and make you absolutely perfect with eternal joys in heaven. So why would you or I be worried, or afraid, or anxious about money, or care what that person said about us? The Holy Spirit works from the outside in, transform us inside, and working from the inside out.
And we see that in the dramatic change of the disciples. Peter and all the apostles weeks earlier had abandoned Jesus, denied him, locked themselves away in fear, but what do we see them doing here? Here they’re boldly confessing their faith in Jesus. They’re speaking about the wonders of God in many different languages. Why so? Well, what’s the best language to hear the word of God in? It’s your own language. So, the Holy Spirit worked from the outside in bringing faith to the apostles, then the Holy Spirit worked from the inside out creating a burning zeal and confidence within the disciples and empowering them to speak the Gospel in many different languages and through that message the Holy Spirit was working from the outside in on the hearts of all those who heard it.
Notice the dramatic change in the disciples. How would you describe them? They’re confident, yes. But notice what they are accused of being: drunk. Now, they probably weren’t accused of being drunk simply because they were speaking in different languages. In Ephesians 5:18 God says, “Do not get drunk on wine…instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Do you see what God is doing? He’s comparing being drunk with being filled with the Holy Spirit. There’s a certain similarity and a big difference between the two. Why did they think the apostles were drunk? Because they had this joyful fearlessness, they had no inhibitions, they were sharing the gospel in public and they were too happy to care what anyone else thought or said, they were too happy to be afraid about anything.
This joyful fearlessness we see in children, but not often in adults, when you see it in adults it may remind you of someone who is drunk. Alcohol can have that affect on someone, it fills someone with a certain happiness, they let down their inhibitions. But being filled with the Holy Spirit gives you a joyful fearlessness because you’re reminded of the wonderful truths of God’s forgiveness, God’s love for you, God’s power to protect you and take you to heaven, it’s like God the Father’s arms are wrapped around you.
But God says, “Do not get drunk on wine…instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.” The reason alcohol makes you happy is because it’s a depressant, it makes a person dumb, it makes them less aware of reality and so they’re happy because the things that bothered them when they had full reality don’t, the reality is hidden from them. But the disciples aren’t drunk, they are full of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives joy through intelligence, not by taking it away. The Holy Spirit gives you the reality. “You were lost, sinful, dead spiritually on your own. But Jesus came and took your sins away by dying on the cross for them. Because He rose your sins are forgiven in full. That means the only one whose opinion of you that matters loves you more than you will ever know. He will do anything for you, has given everything up for you and will never let you go.
The Holy Spirit makes you more aware of reality, but by doing so, He increases your joyful fearlessness from the inside out. I love the joyful fearlessness of children, but that’s exactly what the Holy Spirit does for us. He works from the outside in working and strengthening faith in our hearts through the Word and Sacraments and then from the inside out causing us to live in joy, peace, and fearlessness as children of the heavenly Father. Amen.